February 14, 2020
3 min read
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Improving heart health may be easier with a partner

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Leslie Cho

This Valentine’s Day, patients can consider moving on from giving chocolate and flowers and giving their partners the gift of heart health. A survey conducted by Cleveland Clinic found that 66% of people who are in a committed relationship said they are concerned about their partner’s health, and 83% reported that they would participate in a heart-healthy diet if their partner initially agreed to do so.

Healio spoke with Leslie Cho, MD, director of the Women’s Cardiovascular Center and section head of preventive cardiology and rehabilitation in the Robert and Suzanne Tomsich Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic, to learn more about results from the survey and how cardiologists can motivate patients to involve their partners on their journey to a healthier lifestyle.

Question: What are some of the major takeaways from this survey?

Answer: The one big thing the survey suggests is that we still have a lot of education we need to do to improve CV risk factors. There are some easy things that people can do, as well as some misconceptions about heart disease and how to prevent heart disease. We should continue to focus on educating our public so they can lower their risk because 90% of heart disease is preventable.

Q: Why do you think the support and encouragement of a partner is effective in improving heart health?

A: It is the accountability and the fact that you have company. There are good data out there about exercising not just with your partner, but that even exercising with your friends is beneficial. It is better if you exercise together because you are held accountable. The reason why group weight-loss programs or group addiction programs work is because of that accountability component. It is so easy if you are doing it by yourself to not show up.

Q: How can couples work with each other to improve their heart health?

A: There are very good data out there that if you put a healthy or a fit person in a group environment, they affect their local group and it has a threefold effect. Imagine for a couple how powerful that kind of interaction is. If you have somebody who wants to eat healthy, you can have a dramatic impact on your partner. You can impact each other in terms of healthy living.

Unfortunately, the corollary is also true. If you have a partner who smokes and you are trying to quit smoking, you are less likely to quit smoking. Not only good habits, but bad habits are both contagious.

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It is important if you are going to start on projects like this, you do it together, as a family. When we talk about making our kids healthy, we bring the whole family in because there is no way you can have an impact unless you treat the whole family.

Similarly, when I see patients who have heart disease, I always make them bring their partner for nutrition counseling. When they all listen together, the intervention is far more effective.

Q: How can cardiologists empower couples (or at least one part of the couple) to encourage their partner to engage in heart-healthy habits?

A: No. 1, cardiologists, are strapped for time, so we can better utilize services available for patients. For example, for patients are diabetic or when patients are over the age of 65, a nutrition consultation can also be paid for by insurance.

Involving the whole family or the partner in the treatment plan of a patient is extremely important. If you are asking your patients to have a low-sodium diet and their family eats very salty foods, that is not going to be successful unless you get the whole family involved.

Similarly, for exercise, we do cardiac rehab and we teach our patients how to exercise. I always make sure that they bring their partner for the first rehab entrance visit or at least try to bring their partner because we want this exercise to be a contagious thing for the family.

Q: Do you see that patients want to bring their partner to these appointments?

A: Oftentimes, we see women pushing their husbands. Many times, when they come in with their husbands, they force them to exercise and eat better, which is great. Men are less likely to do this.

After our appointment, it is important when they go home and to remove unhealthy food and lifestyle factors. This can be very difficult, but temptations are real.

Oftentimes, patients are most motivated after an event like an MI, bypass or a stent. It is important to involve the family immediately after that event so you can encourage them.

Healthy habits, diet and exercise are not supplements. There is no substituting that. It is the cornerstone of therapy. Pills are supplements, but they are not substitutes for a good healthy diet. In addition, when we see patients who smoke, we encourage them to quit with their loved ones.

It is important to continue to educate our patient population. Using other professionals such as nutritionists and exercise physiologists to help us with our patients can be very beneficial. – by Darlene Dobkowski

Disclosure: Cho reports no relevant financial disclosures.